Setting the Record Straight on Pension Fund Dispute


By Michael Kieloch

By now, many Rhode Islanders have seen or heard the outrageous claims from the extensive media smear campaign orchestrated by the United Nurses & Allied Professionals (UNAP.) For more than four years, the Diocese of Providence has been excoriated publicly and its entities sued frivolously over the Saint Joseph Health Services of Rhode Island (SJHSRI) pension fund—which exists to support retirees of Saint Joseph’s and Fatima Hospitals. It’s important to set the record straight on some of the egregious lies and misinformation designed to assign unwarranted blame and to extract money from the Church through threats, bullying and invective. Our understanding to date is not a single retiree has missed out on one penny of their pension payments. Some important facts you should know:
The pension fund was the responsibility of SJHSRI. SJHSRI, an independent corporation with its own finances and governance, was responsible for the funding of the pension. The diocese did not have the power, authority or responsibility to fund the pension plan. Moreover, records show that the SJHSRI pension fund was more than adequately funded to meet its obligations until at least the great recession of 2008.
The hospitals changed structure twice since 2008. In 2009, SJHSRI entered into an affiliation with Roger Williams Hospital to form CharterCare which exercised control over the hospitals and the pension plan. In 2014, Prospect Medical Holdings, a billion-dollar company, purchased the assets of CharterCare, including Saint Joseph’s and Fatima Hospitals. Both transactions were reviewed by and approved by the Department of Health and the Attorney General’s Office. UNAP and its leadership enthusiastically supported both transactions, a fact that union membership now seems to have forgotten. As a condition of the Prospect transaction, $14 million—nearly one-third of the sale price—was deposited into the pension fund.
The union was aware of the pension status. While now claiming to have been duped regarding the pension status, a bevy of documents, including the regulatory record, five pension freezes from 2007 to 2011, and the union’s own correspondence to its members, show that the union was aware of the pension’s status and that the diocese was not responsible for its funding. The status of the pension was widely known.
The diocese has attempted to resolve this dispute. Despite these baseless claims for which it has no legal or financial responsibility, the Church is compassionate, and recognizes that money spent on lawyers could be better used to support the pension. The diocesan defendants voluntarily participated in two mediations seeking an equitable resolution with no result. While the Church has brought its good faith to the sessions, the other side has been recalcitrant, leafleting cars in the Cathedral parking lot the day before the mediation session.
The personal ad hominem attacks on Bishop Tobin and other priests are dishonest, disrespectful and patently untrue. These attacks, including picketing at Holy Mass with school children, have purposely created an atmosphere that is counterproductive to achieving a just resolution. While the diocese works to achieve factual truths in this dispute, UNAP seeks to smear the Church in hopes they can extort money in exchange for ending their media blitz.
Withholding donations to parishes and the Catholic Charity Appeal only hurts the thousands of Rhode Islanders who receive much-needed social services and charitable support from the diocese. In the wake of the pandemic, need in our Ocean State is greater than ever. The Catholic Charity Appeal is restricted for use in our charitable works and cannot be used to fund legal defense or settlements.
The Church continues to pray for and work towards an end to this unnecessary dispute. But we can no longer stand patiently silent and allow our bishop, priests, and charitable ministries to be smeared by lies and disinformation. Nor can we abandon our strong defenses and rights to have these baseless claims decided in court. The Church will continue to honor the contributions of workers who toil in the Lord’s vineyard. For their sake, and for the sake of those we serve every day, we must speak the truth in charity.
Michael Kieloch is the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the Diocese of Providence.